Tech Talk: Virtual field trips take students around the world and more

Central Okanagan Digital team brings virtual field trips to the classroom. To the moon? Why not?

  • Jan. 15, 2016 2:00 p.m.

One of the most memorable field trips I ever went on in school was to Mrs. Craig’s property. It wasn’t just any old property. She lived on a pond, complete with everything a kid could love. We turned rocks over and discovered bugs. We captured water in jars and saw what living things were swimming around. We played in the muck and the mud and discovered the great outdoors.

It was something that has stuck with me, a place I still drive past on trips back to the great white north, recalling that time of discovery and fun. Did it instil my love of the outdoors, slimy creatures, fishing? It definitely didn’t hurt. Maybe some kids in my class dreamed of going to the moon and becoming an astronaut, but for me playing in the mud and the pond at Mrs. Craig’s place was the best of times. I’ve wanted to be outdoors ever since.

Now, thanks to technology, today’s school kids are having their eyes opened to so many more things and what seems like infinite possibilities. Go to the moon? Why not? How about Pearl Harbour in Hawaii or the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa? Students in this district have been there and done that under the Central Okanagan’s virtual field trip program.

“It’s unbelievable,” said school board chair Moyra Baxter, who has tagged along on a few virtual field trips since the service was first offered in Central Okanagan schools. “I’m old enough to remember when the thought of anyone going up in space was just science fiction. It was something you would read in comics. Now I’ve been in the room when our students went to space. They sent questions in and the astronaut answered them. I think it’s just amazing and I just wish I could be born again.”

Yes, school field trips (let’s face it they were always the best part of school) have been taken to a new level with advances in technology that are allowing students to take virtual field trips all over the world. The Great Barrier Reef? Check. The Indianapolis Zoo. Been there. The Royal Tyrell Museum in Drumheller. Done.

Virtual field trips in the district are pulled off by a team of digital media specialists working out of the McWilliams Centre located in Central School. A half-dozen teachers, two digital media experts and a vice principal deliver the virtual field trips among their other roles as digital experts in the district. Teachers sign up for one of the available trips on a first-come-first serve basis and the digital team will bring the conference to the classroom.

Virtual Field trips range from simple web site visits, to high definition interactive video conferencing. All five high schools in SD23 as well as Hollywood Road and Constable Neil Bruce Middle School have access to dedicated life-size HD videoconferencing systems which enable realtime high definition interactive video conferencing. Students questions can be video-taped and sent in and answered.

“It’s not that they just go down and see it (on video) and that’s the end of it,” said Baxter. “They can research it and then ask their questions. The idea is for them to be learning and inquisitive and asking questions. It’s a wonderful opportunity that the district has been able to get involved in.”

The virtual field trips do come with costs ranging from $0 to $250 per trip. But when it comes to shaping kids’ futures, it seems a small price to pay to open the minds of our youth. The virtual trips are one of the many ways the school district is attempting to use technology to help kids learn.

“I think what we’re trying to do in our district is find that balance, trying to harness the technology to improve learning for kids,” said Jon Rever, the director of instruction in charge of technology. “At the end of the day that is our core business. We’re not interested in technology for technology’s sake. We want it to be applied to deeply assist learning.”

In this case, the district has done that and beyond. All the way to the moon, quite literally.

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